October 12, 2023
With the launch of Hamas's unprovoked war on Israel on Oct. 7, the Iron Dome once again proved invaluable, intercepting 90 percent of projectiles fired toward Israel that it engaged.
Here are five things you need to know about Israel’s Iron Dome system and the effort to secure emergency funding.
1) What is Iron Dome?
Iron Dome is an air defense missile system developed by two Israeli firms with support from the U.S. Emphasis on defense. It is never used to attack or retaliate and poses no threat to Palestinians.
The strongest air defense system in the world has three components: a radar that detects incoming rockets; a command-and-control system that determines the threat level; and an interceptor that, if the system determines human lives or infrastructure are at risk, seeks to destroy the incoming rocket before it strikes.
2) How does it save Israeli and Palestinian lives?
According to Israeli officials, it is about 90% effective in stopping short-range rockets fired by Hezbollah terrorists next door in Lebanon or Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in neighboring Gaza. The system protects Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths.
For example, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired more than 4,300 rockets from Gaza into Israel in May 2021, more than 1,500 targeted heavily populated areas, including Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv. Iron Dome shot down more than 90% of those rockets, greatly reducing the death toll. Even with the Iron Dome, about a dozen Israelis were murdered. That number would have been much higher without the Israeli missile defense system.
During the current Israel-Hamas war, Iron Dome once again has saved Israeli lives. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists have fired more than 4,500 rockets at Israel.
It also saves Palestinian lives. Giving Israel a viable option to defend itself shifts its focus from a strategy of preemptive offensives against terrorists who hide among tightly-packed civilian areas to a defense system that intercepts real and present danger. It also reduces the need for ground operations in and around the civilian areas that terrorists use for launching missiles and rockets at Israeli civilians. Often ground offenses result in greater loss of lives.
3) Why and how does America fund Iron Dome?
The U.S. and Israel have maintained a strategic partnership in the Middle East for decades. As the only true democracy in the region, Israel plays a vital stabilizing role, even though it is surrounded in part by hostile neighbors. As a senator, President Joe Biden first referred to the strategic advantage America reaps from its close partnership with Israel, unrivaled in the region, when he declared: “Were there not an Israel, the U.S would have to go out and invent an Israel.”
The U.S.-Israel relationship also gives Americans access to cutting-edge modes of defense. In fact, the U.S. Army has purchased two Iron Dome systems of its own.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 55% of the system’s components are currently manufactured in the U.S.
For these reasons, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have worked to safeguard the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge (QME). Making sure the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has superior capabilities helps de-escalate the violence when Israel is forced to defend herself.
Even so, the political machinations of the annual budget process in Congress made it hard to predict how much funding Israel could expect from year to year. A 2016 Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Barack Obama and supported by overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle, put an end to that uncertainty. The commitment of $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, including an unprecedented commitment of $5 billion for missile defense assured Israel that it could count on a steady stream of American support amid rising tensions. Likewise, it encouraged Israel to buy more of the advanced capabilities produced by the U.S. to support American jobs.
Costing around $80,000 a piece, the Iron Dome’s interceptors are only used when there is a threat to human life or infrastructure.
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4) What has been the debate in the U.S. over supporting Iron Dome?
After a disheartening debate in September 2021 about whether America should support a system that saves Israeli and Palestinian lives, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to restock Israel’s Iron Dome air missile-defense system by a vote of 420 in favor, 9 opposed, and 2 abstentions.
A small group of Democratic lawmakers forced the stand-alone bill when they refused to support a Democratic measure aimed at avoiding a government shutdown in the U.S. Why? They didn’t want it to include a provision that would continue to protect Israeli civilians from rockets launched by terrorists operating across Israel’s borders – $1 billion to replenish the Iron Dome.
Eight Democrats – Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Andre Carson, Marie Newman, Jesus Garcia, Raul Grijalva – and one Republican, Rep. Tom Massie, voted against the supplemental funding. Two Democrats—Reps. Hank Johnson and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez – abstained.
But the challenge to replenish the life-saving technology dragged on in the U.S. Senate where Democrats tried four times to fast-track the funding by unanimous consent. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked every request, insisting that the funding come out of the $6 billion in proposed U.S. assistance to Afghanistan. The measure finally passed several months later in March 2022 as part of an omnibus spending package that also included $250 million for security at houses of worship and $14 million to support Ukraine.
Following Hamas' unprovoked attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Biden administration officials told Congress that Israel is in urgent need of precision-guided munitions and more interceptors for the Iron Dome air defense system. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin (D-MD) has pledged to introduce legislation to restock interceptors fired by the Iron Dome system.
5) A Continuing Strategic U.S.-Israel Partnership
During his visit to Israel in July 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden toured a display of the Iron Dome system at Ben Gurion airport.
Then-Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanked Biden for his support in replenishing the system.
“Under your rule, honorable president, security cooperation in the region has intensified and expanded in an unprecedented manner and Israel is grateful for this and also for your support with record U.S. security assistance that included a billion dollars to replenish Iron Dome interceptors,” Gantz told Biden.
Biden also viewed the new Iron Beam system, which is designed to work in tandem with the Iron Dome to shoot down smaller projectiles.
At the same time, the U.S. Army recently announced that it has completed an interceptor test of the Iron Dome system. The U.S. military has two Iron Dome batteries that were supplied in late 2020 and plans to field the systems as an interim cruise missile defense solution. Currently, one has been deployed to Guam since the fall of 2021.
“It’s important to understand that implementation for the U.S. is about the ability to integrate this system into our air defense picture,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Gibson, director of the U.S. Army’s Air and Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team, Defense News reported.